We're all familiar with training in our 'fat-burning' zone. But did you know that your fat-burning zone should be experienced throughout the day, even when you're not exercising? In fact, one of the biggest reasons people get stuck or hit a plateau in their weight loss efforts is because their metabolism is not keeping them in that zone 24/7.
As trainers, we think of the fat-burning zone as the intensity level (low to moderate) we do aerobic exercise so the body will burn calories from fats instead of carbs and protein. The simple truth is that our body prefers to burn fats over carbs and protein. Unfortunately, many clients who struggle with weight gain, fatigue, moodiness, cravings, etc. are just the opposite. In order to keep our clients' bodies in the fat-burning zone all the time, we must make sure their metabolism is burning fat rather than lean tissue (protein) and carbs (sugars). When they burn fats, they get two and a half times more energy than they do from carbs and proteins.
As trainers, many clients look to us for both answers and results. If we can't give them those things, they may look elsewhere. This is why it is beneficial to understand how our clients' metabolism functions. To think that merely adding muscle will fix the problem is incorrect. Every client is different and will have a unique set of challenges. Training is only a part of the solution — and we can easily assess their metabolism through a series of questions about diet, stress, digestion, blood sugar and hormone levels. When we better understand where they are coming from, we can design a more appropriate workout and dieting plan for them.
What to Look For
The body is like a car — it gives us signals (symptoms). We need to make sure we are attentive to those signs and symptoms, which let us know if the metabolism is functioning properly. What is important to understand is that hormones regulate our metabolism. Some hormones trigger the body to burn fats, some to store fats and some to burn carbohydrates and proteins. What we need to understand and convey to our clients is that stress, diet, digestion and blood sugar are what activate those hormones.
Please keep in mind when I say "hormones," I am not specifically talking about estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. I am talking about the hormones that regulate our mood, metabolism, sleep, blood sugar, heart rate, respiration, etc. I am talking about cortisol, adrenaline, insulin, glucagon and our thyroid hormones. These hormones affect whether our body is burning or storing fats.
Simple Questions to Ask
Besides the standard health questions everyone should be asking, here are several other questions we should begin to ask:
·          Do they struggle with cravings or low blood sugar?
·          Do the have a history of hypoglycemia?
·          Are they irritable and moody if their meals are missed or delayed?
·          Do they skip meals or eat less than three meals a day?
·          Do they struggle with lightheadedness or dizziness?
·          Does their diet consist of refined, processed junk food and drinks?
·          Do they suffer from mid-morning/afternoon slumps?
·          Do they have a hard time concentrating and staying focused?
·          Do they have to eat every couple of hours to keep their energy up?
·          Do they wake up and have difficulty falling back asleep?
The questions can be answered as mild, moderate or severe and are obvious symptoms that correlate to blood sugar issues, and maintaining blood sugar levels is critical for staying in the fat-burning zone.
How to Help Them
Here are some "Cardinal Rules" of keeping your clients in their fat-burning zones:
Ø  Cardinal Rule #1: They can not skip meals, especially breakfast. When we skip a meal, our blood sugar drops and takes us out of our fat-burning zone. Secondly, it causes the adrenal glands to produce additional cortisol and adrenaline to raise blood sugar. Unfortunately, this can lead to adrenal fatigue and exhaustion, which is a growing problem and at the root of so many ailments.
Ø  Cardinal Rule #2: Eat good quality protein and fat with each meal. A bowl of cereal with a cup of coffee or a bagel is not going to cut it. Too many carbs or high glycemic foods cause an increase of insulin, which works to store fat and inhibit the breakdown of fats. You can add nuts to healthy cereals to help slow down the sugar surge from the carbs, Protein triggers more glucagon, which helps burn fats. Not all carbs are created equal, though — I like "slow" carbs (low to moderate glycemic foods) instead of no or low carbs.
Ø  Cardinal Rule #3: Eat at least three meals a day. The thought of six meals a day is a great concept in theory, but most of my clients don't have the time or inclination to do that. Good protein and fat at each meal will keep the blood sugar stable and allow for more glucagon to be available.
Ø  Cardinal Rule #4: Limit the intense training until their blood sugar symptoms decrease. Otherwise, their workouts will further deplete and exhaust an already overworked body. This is important if they are on a low carb diet because it's the breakdown of carbs and/or protein that gets us through an intense workout. Classic signs that the workout was too intense is complete fatigue and exhaustion after the workout. Yes, they should be tired after a good workout, but if they are wiped out, it's too much! Overtraining causes a decrease in the release of growth hormones, testosterone and DHEA.
Ø  Cardinal Rule #5: Keep the intense workout short! You can do an intense workout with your client for 15-30 minutes depending on the severity of their symptoms. But make sure they eat some fruit, agave or honey before and after the workout to replenish all the carbs they spent, or they will feel terrible. Remember, glucose is the sugar (carbs) that is broken down to provide the primary fuel for the brain. When blood sugar drops, fuel for the brain drops. This makes it hard to focus and concentrate, and it causes clients to become moody and irritated and struggle with cravings and lightheadedness.
Ø  Cardinal Rule #6: Keep their aerobic workout "aerobic." A classic mistake is to do aerobic exercise at too high of an intensity. This causes anaerobic metabolism, and it is a leading cause of overtraining and adrenal fatigue. Anaerobic metabolism is stress-producing, whereas aerobic metabolism is stress-reducing. This is critical when dealing with someone who struggles with fatigue and lack of energy.
Ø  Cardinal Rule #7: Break the vicious cycle! If your client is having blood sugar problems, they may also struggle with indigestion, elimination, hormonal imbalances as well as adrenal fatigue and exhaustion. The point is that one problem can contribute to another, and fixing one issue while turning a blind eye to another will slow down their progress. The reason we mention the adrenal glands is because stress is a huge factor and underlying problem in our society. Intense physical exercise is another form of stress that stimulates the production of cortisol and adrenaline, and constant stress can eventually lead to a decrease production of cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol, adrenaline and insulin are not good or bad hormones, but when we make too much or too little, it take us out of our fat-burning zone and affects our sleep, mood, recovery, heart rate, energy level and libido. Adrenal overload can cause a decreased production of progesterone and testosterone. The importance of progesterone for women goes without saying, but the drop in testosterone is the last thing we want to see. Keep in mind, you can never restore progesterone, estrogen and testosterone without first addressing the adrenal glands, and you can never restore adrenal function if you don't keep your blood sugar stable — they are "dancing partners" that cannot be separated!
Try utilizing some of these techniques with your clients — I believe you will see an improvement in their results, and we all know that the best advertisement we can put out there is results!
Dr. Len Lopez is a nutrition and fitness expert and author of To Burn or Not to Burn, Fat is the Question. He is the host of Action Steps for Health and a frequent guest on radio and television. His approach to health and fitness is based on TEE-times: Time, Energy and Effort. Visit www.drlenlopez.com, or call his office at 972.458.0099 for more information.
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